- "A Georgia editor kindly explains that 'a snollygoster is a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by the sheer force of monumental talknophical assumnacy'".
Columbus Dispatch October, 1895
Beware of being hornswoggled by some snollygoster! A noun as in a person, pronounced SNOL-ee-gos-ter. I couldn't help but be intrigued by this odd word that rolls around and trips off the tongue and wondered, What in the hey hoo is a snollygoster? In all my readings and travels I have never seen it in print! A trip across the world wide web came up with a lot of interesting information.
The word itself originates in the northeastern part of the United States. Many web sites related that in Massachucttes the word snollygoster is commonly used by lobstermen as a synonym for severe nor'easters or storms. Perhaps, he speculates because of the snollygoster's "ability to blow away "poultry and children", at least the small ones! "
By today's usage the word has turned into describing a shrewd politician who forsakes his or her principles for personal gain. An empleomaniac or entheomaniac perhaps? Maybe it achieved its political connection in 1952 when President Truman used snollygoster to describe "a man born out of wedlock". Of course many hastened to put him right by directing his attention to the quoting the definition from the Columbia Dispatch cited up above, however, the word appeared in an American dictionary at least a half century before that and defined it merely as a shyster. One web site relates that the snollygoster was a mythical monster of vast size - half reptile, half bird - supposedly found in Maryland, and which was invented to terrify ex-slaves out of voting. One can connect the dots from a monster to politician with the Jim Crow laws and by the end of the debacle with Truman the word had gained a new reputation; 'a man who wants politcal office regardless of party platform or principles.' By 1860 it had changed again into .' A devious, inept, talkative, or unethical lawyer; a shyster.' Today The New Oxford Dictionary of English calls a snollygoster simply a person who is unethical or shrewd.
When combined with the original tale of what a snollygoster it's surely come a long way from the mythical beast, part reptile and part bird that hunts at night swooping down upon and stealing chickens and unruly children when they least expect it. Chickens? How did chickens get involved? The name of the monster was derived from the Pennsylvania Dutch words schnelle geeschter meaning "quick spirit," a a regional variety of German schnell, "fast, quick" and German Geist "spirit," the last one close to the English word "ghost." According to yourdictionary.com, "Snollygoster" is apparently the last stage of the progression schnelle geeschter > snallygaster > snollygoster.
eek! I'd better go look for any snollygosters under my bed!
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000: